Commentary and Philosophy Poetry posted December 11, 2016

This work has reached the exceptional level
Elegy for the thirty-six killed in the Ghost Ship fire.

Ghost Ship

by Sis Cat

Ferryman. O ferryman,
Kharon, oarsman of the Underworld,
return to our oaken shores.
Bring back our dead—
our youths, our rebels,
our artists, our poets,
our queers, our trans,
our singers, our musicians,
our students, our deejays,
our family, our friends.
Bring them back.
Kharon. O Kharon,
we would pay their return passage—
thirty-six coins for thirty-six souls.
Your skiff is too small
to carry so many.
So you commandeer a ship—a ghost ship—
whose skull figurehead screams
and whose hulk
bulks with the treasures of the world—
carpets from Persia,
tapestries from Tibet,
carvings from China—
eclectically arranged,
like a Marrakesh bazaar,
all highly combustible,
all highly flammable.

But the treasures we most desire to keep
are the people whose lives enlivened us,
but whose deaths deaden us.                
Kharon, your ship burns on the water.
Your skull figurehead smokes.
Please preserve your passengers.
Helpless, we stand upon life's shore
and watch your ghost ship burn to the water line—
thirty-six souls lost.


Kharon (or Charon)--In Greek mythology, Kharon ferries the souls of the newly dead in a boat across the River Styx in the Underworld.

oaken shores--Oakland, once home to the world's largest coastal oak forest and site of the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire which killed thirty-six during a music show on December 2, 2016.

trans--transgender. Three of the victims were transgender, including the poet Em B.

When news spread of the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire, friends and family thought I had been killed because I sometimes perform at converted warehouses in Oakland. I had attended a movie in Berkeley that night instead, but several poets and storytellers I know lost their friends in the fire.

As firefighters recovered bodies from the ruins, I conceived of a thirty-six line poem--one line for each victim--which reflected the loss my region feels. I work three miles from the Ghost Ship and visited the memorial outside of it to pay my respects and get ideas. Mourners' mementos referenced lost treasures--lives--and shipwrecks. I wrote my poem that evening. I will perform my poem at fundraisers for the victims.

Photo by author of screaming skull mural in front of the Ghost Ship warehouse.

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